By Jill Gordon
College is viewed by many people these days as a diploma factory. You show up go to certain classes in a certain order, and eventually receive a diploma. There’s not a lot of love for learning for learning’s sake anymore. But that hasn’t stopped many colleges and online colleges from offering plenty of quirky unique classes that go over non-standard educational topics. A lot of the odd courses we found sound like lots of fun, but with tuition costs skyrocketing, is it really worth it to spend thousands of dollars on fun diversions? Read on and decide.
15. Arguing with Judge Judy: Popular ‘Logic’ on TV Judge Shows
University of California, Berkeley
This isn’t a class you’d typically find in an online college for criminal justice program. Not quite what one would expect, the professor of this course emphasizes repeatedly in the course listing that this class is “NOT a course about law or “legal reasoning.” It is instead an exploration of logical fallacies that are often presented by defendants and plaintiffs on court television shows like Judge Judy and The People’s Court. Seems right up the alley of most college students, as they are squarely in the demographic of afternoon television programming (which also targets the elderly and unemployed). >>> Course listing
14. Underwater Basket Weaving
University of California, San Diego
The course that is used interchangeably with “waste of time college class,” but surprisingly it actually exists, both at UC San Diego and at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. According to Wikipedia, anyway. Underwater basket weaving involves making wicker baskets by dipping reeds or stalks of plants into water, and letting them soak. Full body immersion is optional I suppose.
13. Learning From YouTube
This college course literally involves watching YouTube videos to study the impact on culture that the video sharing site has had. Students also upload their own videos to the class YouTube channel. The teacher started the course after being “underwhelmed by the quality of the video content on the site.” You can actually see some of the classes if you’re so inclined.
12. Philosophy and Star Trek
Philosophy classes often use pop culture to start discussion, there are even plenty of books out there with similar themes as this college class (here’s Seinfeld and Philosophy for instance), but still, when it comes down to it, this course and the philosophical under trappings are just being used as an excuse to talk a little Star Trek. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. >>> Course Listing
11. The Art of Walking
This might sound like the epitome of college fluff, but it’s actually a class dealing with Immanuel Kant’s “Critique of Judgment”. The course offers a mixture of lectures and walks around the Danville, Kentucky area including strolls through “nature preserves, battlefields, cemeteries, the nearby Shaker Village, campuses and farms”. Students are also given freelance walking assignments in addition to more traditional college work like reading and term papers.
10. Daytime Serials: Family and Social Roles
University of Wisconsin
While I’m sure most guys would rather gouge out their own eyes than take a course on soap operas, this is probably right up many young women’s alley. This is part of UW’s Women’s Studies program, which I think is kind of unfortunate, given the view some people have of that major already. Talk about giving them more ammunition. The course isn’t really about soap operas per se, it’s actually about the role they play in family and work lives of the people who watch them, so it could also benefit those interested in psychology. As realistic as soap operas are, for the more traditional aspiring psychologists out there, researching online colleges for psychology is always an option.
9. Joy of Garbage
Santa Clara University
The Joy of Garbage is a Santa Clara University course that actually deals with real science through the lens of garbage. Students study decomposition, what makes soil rot, the chemicals that give garbage an unpleasant odor, and they also learn about sustainability when it comes to the things we throw away. In other words, it’s a real down-and-dirty version of the stuff you’d learn from online colleges for environmental science. Classes don’t just study household garbage either; there’s also a section on nuclear waste. And topping things off, there are even field trips, with students visiting local sanitation plants and landfills.
8. The Science of Superheroes
University of California at Irvine
Students at UC Irvine can learn about physics by using familiar superhero icons such as Spider-Man, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman. The professor teaches the physics of flying and fluid dynamics using Superman as his example, and the students also learn about super strong spider silk as used by Spider-Man. The professor explains it saying “It gives me a chance to talk about real science but in a context that is very familiar to the students.”
7. Zombies in Popular Media
Columbia College, Chicago
Here’s one I’d have to consider signing up for: the history of zombies in popular media. Lest you think it’s just about zombie movies, it should be emphasized that the course also covers the history of voodoo in Hait, and video games like Resident Evil, as well as zombies in cinema. No word yet whether this is best for history buffs or for future homeland security forces who will have to battle the inevitable zombie outbreak, but, for those interested in more traditional course work NOT involving the un-dead, there’s already a wealth of online colleges for history and online colleges for homeland security out there. >>> Course Listing
6. The Science of Harry Potter
Frostburg State University
Not only does Frostburg State offer a course on the science of Harry Potter – it’s an honors course. The class discusses topics such as whether or not Fluffy the three headed dog could be explained by genetic engineering or if antigravity research could actually produce a flying broomstick. The course is modeled after (and uses as a textbook) the book “The Science of Harry Potter: How Magic Really Works,” by Roger Highfield. The class is geared towards non-science majors (like those enrolled in a creative writing major, perhaps?) and, probably not surprisingly, there is no lab work.
5. Cyberporn and Society
State University of New York at Buffalo
Students taking this course watch porn. At school. There are actually quite a few porn courses in the US, as outlined in this Time article, including a class at Northwestern that deals with obscenity where the professor screens the Italian movie Saló, a film that has a great argument for being the sickest movie ever made. Seeing it in a college course would be extremely bizarre. If you like the idea of earning college credit for watching porn, you might want to check out other online colleges in New York for more options.
4. Simpsons and Philosophy
University of California-Berkeley
This one is probably predictable as you’ve got a twenty year old show with plenty of rich fairly intellectual material and a main character with the name of “Homer”. UC-Berkeley claims this isn’t at all a dumbed down class, but a fairly rigorous philosophical course. The text of the class is the book “The Simpsons and Philosophy: The D’oh of Homer,” edited by William Irwin and features weighty questions such as “Can Nietzsche’s rejection of traditional morality justify Bart’s bad behavior?”.
3. Far Side Entomology
The comic strip “The Far Side” featured a rich universe filled with interesting animals and bugs. Other conventional online colleges in Oregon may teach entomology the old-fashioned way, but Far Side Entomology professor Michael Burgett uses the comic strip as a teaching tool to explore interactions between humans and insects. About the course, Burgett says “The anthropomorphism in the cartoons makes an immediate connection between insects and people … Students take those connections farther, connecting to ideas and relationships they wouldn’t have imagined in a straight systematics course.”
2. Myth and Science Fiction: Star Wars, The Matrix, and Lord of the Rings
Tiny Centre College makes their second appearance on our list, this time with a class focusing on contemporary epics. Students not only study Stars Wars, The Matrix, and The Lord Of The Rings, they also discuss television shows like Star Trek, Stargate, Dr. Who, The X-Files, and Babylon 5. The course weds these modern day tales to classical myths, showing that many of the narrative devices and patterns employed then are still used in today’s epics.
1. The Strategy of StarCraft
University of California, Berkley
I’m sure that in South Korea one could major in StarCraft, but it’s a bit strange seeing a college course about the game here in the U.S. The class uses StarCraft to teach the art of war, discussing strategy and tactics in the famous game. This is actually a student-led program in Berkeley’s alternative education program, but we give it major props for creativity. The class has even received a fair amount of publicity.